The new bicycle laws and you
by John S. Allen
Massachusetts has some new bicycle laws, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Patrick in early January. The Governor and legislature deserve thanks, as the new laws are a great victory for cyclists. MassBike is to be congratulated on its persistence over eight years in filing and promoting this legislation. Former MassBike President Paul Schimek drafted the original version, and it was revised by current MassBike Executive Director David Watson and attorney Andrew Fischer. Many CRW members deserve thanks for expressing their support, which helped get the legislation enacted.
So, then, what does the new law accomplish?
An important provision affecting CRW rides legalizes riding side by side (limited to two abreast). This puts Massachusetts’s law in agreement with that of most other states. BUT, riding side by side is allowed only when it would not impede overtaking traffic. That’s reasonable, and a matter of common courtesy. Use your judgment and, for safety’s sake, avoid riding side by side when sight distance is short (at blind right turns, hill crests, etc.).
Several provisions of the law clarify and improve rules of the road. In particular, these provisions require motorists to take care when opening a car door or when overtaking bicyclists. Motorists are now explicitly prohibited from overtaking a cyclist and then either pulling back into the lane too soon or immediately turning right (the “right hook”). Remember, a law isn’t going to end these practices, but perhaps it will make them less frequent.
One provision of the new law allows bicyclists to overtake motor vehicles on the right. Most other states, however, explicitly hold the person overtaking on the right - bicyclist or motorist - responsible for doing it safely. Use your judgment. Don’t blindly ride past a vehicle and risk a collision with the vehicle or a pedestrian crossing in front. And don’t overtake on the right of a vehicle that could turn right across your path. Overtaking on the left is generally preferable!
Except for the relatively few changes this law makes, the usual rules of the road apply to bicyclists and motorists alike, just as they did before. Remember, our conduct impacts the degree to which communities welcome our presence - and, with the law’s new enforcement provisions, there is a greater possibility that a cyclist’s poor conduct will lead to a traffic ticket.
In particular, the law requires that police be trained on the rules governing bicyclists and governing motorists interacting with bicyclists. The law also untangles police procedure. For example, police will now issue the same traffic citation form for bicyclists and motorists alike. The practical effect of these provisions will likely vary among cities and towns, depending on implementation, but the law builds a good foundation.
A couple of the new technical provisions concern helmets. Businesses renting bicycles must now make helmets available to their customers. (Most already do - should I say that’s a no-brainer?). And, the law updates the standards for helmets - which were, and still are, required for young people (up to age 17).
Want more information? MassBike has a description of the law’s impacts at http://massbike.org/bikebill/index.htm. There is a good commentary on Paul Schimek’s Web site at http://bicycledriving.org/law/updated-massachusetts-bicycle-rules. The full text of the new law is at http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/185/st02/st02573.htm. As of this writing, the text of the statutes online (for example, the bicycle section at http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/85-11b.htm) has not yet been updated, so you will have to read it in conjunction with the new law to get the full picture.
Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?
Please send corrections, additions, comments and praise to